Dr. Paul Farmer

Physician, Medical Anthropologist, Writer : b. 1959

"If access to health care is considered a human right, who is considered human enough to have that right?"

Biography

Medical Anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer has dedicated his life to treating some of the world’s poorest populations, in the process helping to raise the standard of health care in underdeveloped areas of the world.  A founding director of Partners In Health (1987), an international charity organization that provides direct health care services and undertakes research and advocacy activities on behalf of those who are sick and living in poverty, Dr. Farmer and his colleagues have successfully challenged the policymakers and critics who claim that quality health care is impossible to deliver in resource-poor areas.  

Paul Farmer began his lifelong commitment to Haiti in 1983. When he was still a student, he began working with villages in Haiti’s Central Plateau, determined to bring modern health care to the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere. Starting with a one-building clinic in the village of Cange, Farmer’s project has grown to a multiservice health complex that includes a primary school, an infirmary, a surgery wing, a training program for health outreach workers, a 104-bed hospital, a women’s clinic, and a pediatric care facility. It has become a model for health care for poor communities around the world.  

Farmer was born in Massachusetts and grew up in Florida with his five siblings. He received a bachelor’s degree from Duke in 1982, and both an M.D. and Ph. D. in Anthropology from Harvard in 1990. He has written or co-written over 100 scholarly papers, as well as books including Infections and Inequalities (1998) and Pathologies of Power ( 2003).

In 2003 author Tracy Kidder wrote a bestselling book about Farmer and his work, Mountains Beyond Mountains: the Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. This book brought international attention and support to Farmer’s work.

Among the numerous awards Dr. Farmer has received in the last decade is the Heinz Award for the Human Condition. Its citation reads, “To say that Dr. Paul Farmer is a life saver does not begin to describe the impact of his work. Dr. Farmer and his extraordinary organization have been a force in making the world confront the health care needs of those who historically have never had access to proper care. Because of his dedication and compassion, critical health care services are now being administered around the globe to people who previously would have been left untreated.”